Are federal single audit reports of internal control weaknesses a useful tool for evaluating management? The case of charter schools
Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management
Article publication date: 18 October 2021
Issue publication date: 26 April 2022
The authors examine whether reports of internal control weaknesses (ICWs) under federal single audit (FSA) guidelines are a useful tool for evaluating non-profit (NP) management, using a unique nationwide sample of NP charter schools. While prior research focuses on external stakeholder reactions to reported ICWs, little if any research addresses the utility of these reports for internal users. The authors fill this gap in the literature, finding evidence suggesting that NP charter school decision-makers use internal control (IC) reports when setting executive compensation – awarding lower pay increases when deficiencies are reported.
The authors regress executive compensation changes on reported ICWs and likely determinants of NP compensation, including organization size, growth, liquidity and management performance, using a sample of 173 school/year observations representing 113 unique schools for the years 2012–2015.
The authors find a negative relationship with executive pay increases subsequent to reports of initial and repeated IC deficiencies, indicating that lower than average pay increases are awarded subsequent to reports of ICWs.
Interpretation of the authors' results is subject to several limitations, including the possibility of omitted variable bias and the authors' sample, though it comprises all available data for the sample period, and is relatively small and may be considered exploratory in nature. Further, charter schools represent a unique public/private partnership in the educational sector, and the results may not be generalizable to other NPs. Future research could explore the relationship between reported IC deficiencies and governance in other, broader NP sectors.
The authors' findings are useful to NP organization boards of directors as they consider what factors to evaluate in their chief executive officer (CEO) compensation decisions. In addition to other criteria, inclusion of IC effectiveness in the CEO reward system is prudent, especially in today's environment of increasingly important information security and IC matters. The results suggest such information is being included. This previously undocumented use is also of particular value to regulators when weighing the costs and benefits of mandating single audits for smaller NPs, who are otherwise unlikely to obtain information on the organization's IC environment.
These findings may help inform the debate regarding NP charter schools, a fast-growing, economically significant and highly controversial sector in public education. Charters are predominantly funded by state and local taxes. As such, the quality of governance in NP charter schools is of interest to a wide range of stakeholders including parents, regulators and the public at large.
While prior research on ICWs and NPs focuses on external stakeholder reactions to reported ICWs, little if any research addresses the utility of these reports for internal users, especially in relatively smaller organizations. The research leverages the existence of charter schools, which are independent but present nationwide, providing a suitable sample of like organizations. Further, no extant research to the authors' knowledge examines the relationship of NP executive compensation and reported ICWs – a topic previously addressed in the for-profit (FP) literature.
Bradley, J.R., Forgione, D.A. and Michalek, J.E. (2022), "Are federal single audit reports of internal control weaknesses a useful tool for evaluating management? The case of charter schools", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 446-463. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBAFM-09-2020-0159
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